Parents of students at Miramonte Elementary School escort children out of school on Feb. 6, 2012.
The mothers of young girls who say they are victims of a teacher’s lewd and lascivious acts at Miramonte Elementary School are suing the LA Unified School District. Their attorney is Luis Carrillo, who’s also representing 22 former students at the school in a separate legal action.
At his South Pasadena office, Carrillo sat flanked by a pair of his clients – two emotional women speaking in Spanish about their daughters’ connection to Mark Berndt. He’s the LA Unified School District teacher accused of feeding some of his students cookies laced with his own body fluids - and then taking pictures of it.
Elvia Campos is one of Carillo’s clients. She said her daughter often went to Berndt’s classroom after school to help clean up. The teacher would lavish her daughter with compliments, telling her she was a good girl, an intelligent girl, said Campos smearing her thick black eyeliner as she wiped tears from her eyes.
Campos and 13 other women are suing LA Unified and two of Miramonte’s former principals. They say they want the school district to pay for therapy for their children, but they did not say what other damages they might ask for.
John Henrichs works with Carrillo, representing the mothers.
At a press conference he said: “The moms have been traumatized and normally under the law a parent of a victim is not entitled to any type of recovery. However, if there’s a special relationship, which we’re alleging in this case there is because the school district has a special relationship to take care of the safety of the children, that that entitles the parents to come forward and seek justice for themselves here and get their own therapy.”
Carrillo says the children and their mothers have been in intensive therapy since the day after finding out about Berndt’s alleged crimes.
The 61-year-old Berndt taught at LA Unified’s Miramonte Elementary for more than 30 years. He was arrested in February after a yearlong investigation that was triggered when a photo lab worker told authorities about pictures Berndt brought in for processing: photos of kids with cockroaches on their faces, eating cookies topped with a white substance, sometimes bound and blindfolded. Berndt is charged with 23 counts of lewd acts against children.
In a separate case, another Miramonte was arrested and charged with two counts of lewd acts. Martin Bernard Springer is under house arrest with an ankle bracelet, while Berndt remains in jail.
LA County Sheriff’s Sergeant Dan Scott says the Berndt investigation has been wide-ranging. Scott said detectives in the Special Victims Unit have “identified and interviewed approximately 285 children. And they have all been interviewed and statements documented and that information has been turned over to the district attorney.”
Investigators have also concluded interviews in the Springer case.
It’s up to prosecutors in the District Attorney’s office to decide whether to charge the teachers with additional crimes.
A statement from L.A. Unified counsel David Holmquist says the district is working with Miramonte parents, students and teachers to "improve trust and promote healing." The statement says L.A. Unified has not received the latest lawsuit from Miramonte parents.
This story has been updated.